Activity Monitors and Pedometers – The Big Picture

Patient Tip of the Week:   Every time I get up from my chair I walk around for an extra 5 minutes during my day.  It really adds up!

Over the past 10 years there has been a great fusion of technology and physical activity.  When I first started at UMass, we were so expedometercited about the new more accurate pedometers that could be worn anywhere instead of needing to be worn on the waistband.  These “pocket” pedometers were more expensive though, so challenging for all patients to obtain.  best-pedometers-1

Today we have many pedometers and activity monitors to choose from.  This latest fitness trend now provides us not only the ability to track our steps but also track sleep, calories, miles AND  brag to friends about our steps on Facebook.   

Awareness is a powerful tool and this is great progress in filling our need for more movement each day. 

 As with any trend however, some important details can get lost in the excitement.   So here is some “big picture” information about increasing daily activity and monitors:

  • The 10,000 step goal:  While 10,000 steps a day is a good goal – nothing magical happens in your  body when you achieve that amount.  Magic may happen on your activity monitor, smart phone or Facebook page – but your body just knows it moved a nice amount that day.   Considering the average person takes 2,000-6,000 steps a day, 10,000 can be a BIG jump. In reality, every extra step counts – not just the 10,000th one.  Just going from an average of 2000 steps a day to 3000 steps a day means you are healthier. So celebrate every day you make the effort to move more.   
  • How you get there matters:  If you get your steps all at once and then sit the rest of the time the body has a chance for “waste products” to accumulate and inflammation to build.  The health benefit comes from the movement breaks to keep a nice blood supply thCAFV781Pto our cells.    The point is to get us moving more often during the day, not only moving more. 
  • Is cost a barrier?  You don’t need to break the bank or wait until you can afford a $100 + activity monitor to track your activity.  Now tri-axis, or pocket or wear anywhere pedometers cost anywhere from $10-50 depending on the features.  These are accurate pedometers, small and easy to use.  The older or less expensive versions of “pendulum” pedometers that you may receive for free from your employer or health insurance are not as accurate because they need to be placed so they are level on your waistband.  It is worth the investment to purchase a tri-axis pedometer and leave the frustration behind.
  • Is technology a barrier?  Dont want to fool with a pedometer or activity monitor? – simply getting  30-45 minutes of activity split up in small bouts during your day works great.  Set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you. Keep a tally of minutes on your calendar or food journal. Low tech but same health benefits.   
  • Is setting the monitor up a barrier? I also see many people not using their pedometer because they cant figure out how to set it up.  Just put it on steps mode and wear it all day long.  The steps will be accurate whether you put in your stride length or not.  If it has a clock mode so the steps can automatically reset at midnight, make sure the a.m. p.m. is set correctly – BIG bummer to lose all your steps for the day at noon instead of midnight!  If you have an activity monitor and it is too complicated for you, trade it in for a low tech but highly accurate pedometer. 
  • Is accuracy a barrier? Keep perspective:  Remember this tool is not perfect.  You will not get steps for certain activities and you will get steps where you didn’t take some.  If you have a pendulum pedometer (the kind that has to sit on your waistband) you will get steps when you shake it.  That does not mean it is not accurate. If it is placed correctly it will be fairly accurate.  The day-to-day awareness and striving toward your goal is more important than the accuracy.    If you are moving more during your day, you are succeeding. 

baby-walkBottom Line:  we can’t change something if we are not aware – the awareness that activity monitors give us is half the benefit.  We need reminders to move during our day and counting steps is one great way to do that.  If the social media is helpful, great – just keep in mind the ultimate goal is not to get 10,000 steps a day but to avoid prolonged sitting.  We are meant to move all day long, not just in one bout a few days a week. 

Here is how to get the most from your pedometer or activity monitor:

  1. First get your baseline steps.  The temptation is to start getting as many steps as possible once you put a monitor on.  However, this can lead to injuries and burnout caused by doing too much too soon.  Track your steps for 3-7 days on a variety of schedules ie: a few work days and a couple of weekend days.  See what your baseline average is on a typical weekday and weekend.   
  2. Add 5-10% more steps per week to your average.  for example, your average steps are 4,000 per day, the goal this week would be 4,400 steps each day.  Will you get lots of “likes” on Facebook for achieving 10% more? – Probably not.  Will your body and mind thank you by feeling better adapting to this gradual change? – Absolutely!
  3. Wear the monitor all day:  this is a tool mostly to track your non-exercise time.  Wear it all day to remind you to move more and sit less.  The steps wont rack up as quickly but again, this is a tool for promoting activity bouts all day long. 
  4. Spread them out:  Disperse the steps throughout your day as much as possible. 

Click here to go to the UMass Memorial Weight Center website and you can download a handout with more information about pedometers and a tracking sheet for the low-tech option. 

Keep Moving, Be Well




by | February 4, 2015 · 8:01 pm

4 responses to “Activity Monitors and Pedometers – The Big Picture

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